Prohibition may have ended in 1933, but not everyone got the message.
With at least a dozen speakeasies across the District, the locals that flock to the secretive bars hidden around the area have the inside scoop. Unless you or a friend already know about the place, you’re not likely to find it.
Although the discreet locations have websites to visit and numbers to call, even just finding the front door can still feel like a hunt for buried treasure. No advertised bar can match the sense of privacy and intimacy in speakeasies, making them the perfect hideaway for a night out with a small group or a special date.
Speakeasies have nestled themselves into shady nooks and crannies all over the District, but here are some hints to find three of the hottest ones currently flying under the radar.
The Left Door
When I set out for a night at The Left Door, I walked right past the place at least three times before I finally noticed it.
A narrow blue door on an old brick building at 1345 S St. NW sat to the right of a tiny cafe and to the left of an inconspicuous drycleaner. There was no window to see inside or any signs of a business beyond the frame, which was shared with the dry cleaner’s entrance. The only useful clue as to The Left Door’s location was a mosaic above the door that spelled out “Left Door” in red and orange glass pieces.
The street was almost eerily quiet, but the minute I opened the door laughs and cheers from inside swept me into the space. Up a steep and constricted staircase was a warm and cozy dark wooden bar with bright lights hanging from the ceiling lighting up the small room.
The owner, Mick Perrigo, was serving drinks and queuing up songs by Queen and ACDC on his iPhone – which was plugged into a small speaker – between pours. The bar top was lined with plastic and mason jars filled with assorted spices and ingredients for all types of cocktails.
One of The Left Door’s signature drinks is the Kill-Devil, a concoction of rum and old-school aperol with lime, vanilla and cinnamon all topped with a drizzle of ginger cane syrup and a sparkling dash of soda water. The signature drinks aren’t cheap at $16 a glass, but the upscale, old-fashioned ingredients add to the forbidden aspect of the bar.
Chicken + Whiskey
Behind a counter that serves full meals of South American rotisserie chicken slow cooked over charcoal is a speakeasy hidden in plain sight.
At Chicken + Whiskey’s speakeasy at 1738 14th St. NW, the chicken may be served out in the open, but you have to explore for a sip of whiskey. On the way to the restrooms is a large metal freezer door at the back of the restaurant. But unlike most freezers, you can make out faint, light glowing from behind the tinted glass window and hear muffled conversations if you’re close enough.
Opening up the freezer you walk into a backroom hewn from concrete to unveil floors well worn by customers and exposed brick and wood panel walls. The room is brightly lit by trendy round light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.
The bar stretches down the length of the room with about 30 bar stools. Behind the bar is a shelf lined with 99 different brands of whisky to sample. Above the bar, written in chalk, is the menu. In addition to fine whiskeys, bourbons and ryes, there are plenty of bar bites like chicken strips with whiskey sauce ($7.99), which you have to show your ID to order, and yuca potato fries ($3.99).
They offer classic cocktails like Manhattans and Boulevardiers, but specialize in signature, top-shelf whiskeys with drinks ranging from $7 to $24.
People may look at you twice for showing up to the Humble Beast CrossFit gym dressed for a night out, but at the end of the lobby you’ll find a person in casual clothes holding an iPad who knows why you’re there.
The Sheppard is on the second floor of 1337 Connecticut Ave. NW, where a host greets you in the lobby to insert a special key into the elevator to bring you to the bar. The small bar is a warm, welcoming and dark room where the space’s only light comes from real lit candles and brass chandeliers. The walls are coated in red and the carpet floor has a worn burgundy pattern, adding to the victorian mansion feel of the intimate bar.
Velvet fabric lines small areas of the walls and furniture, which creates a muffled and sound-proof oasis. The shades of red and luxurious fabrics alongside cocktails with top-shelf liquor create an upscale atmosphere that is made unpretentious by the rowdy atmosphere.
Bartenders at this hole in the wall rewrite the menu daily, but specialty drinks are always served for $12 a glass.